State appeals court clears the way for Aliso Canyon facility to reopen

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A state appeals court has dissolved a temporary hold on injections at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, overriding the concerns of Los Angeles County and clearing the way for the Southern California Gas Co. field to resume gas injections.

The state Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and the California Public Utilities Commission announced earlier this month that SoCalGas’ underground storage facility is safe to resume limited gas injections to avoid energy shortages in Los Angeles.

The “decision by the Court of Appeals is the right one,” SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said in a written statement late Saturday. “State regulators carefully considered all of the issues raised by both the county and members of the community in their comprehensive safety review and detailed written responses are available to the public.”

• Related Story: SoCalGas fires back after LA court setback: Aliso Canyon is ready, safe, vital

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Saturday’s decision was “an unfortunate setback” for the communities of Porter Ranch and others in the northwest San Fernando Valley. But she suggested the fight is not over. The county will file a full writ petition with the Court of Appeal on Monday, requesting an immediate stay to allow the court to consider the merits of the petition, she said in a written statement.

“I strongly believe that without a root-cause analysis (of the massive 2015-16 leak), seismic risk assessments, and a long-term energy reliability study, this facility — which jeopardized the health and safety of local families for months — should not be allowed to reopen,” Barger said.

Injections were halted at the facility above Porter Ranch after an aging gas well ruptured in October 2015, prompting the release of more than 100,000 metric tons of methane over nearly four months. The leaking well sickened thousands of people in the northwestern San Fernando Valley and forced some 8,300 households to temporarily relocate from the area.

• Related Story: LA County judge won’t stop gas injections at Aliso Canyon. But state court does, for now

L.A. County Superior Court Judge John Wiley ruled Friday against L.A. County’s request for an injunction that would prevent SoCalGas from restarting operations. He cited two state statutes that barred him from issuing a restraining order and said the county’s case for halting injections was unconvincing.

Los Angeles County officials had argued that injections should not resume at the facility until the reason or root-cause analysis of the leak, which has yet to be completed by regulators, as well as seismic studies are done to understand all potential risks.

They also cited a former SoCalGas manager, James Mansdorfer, who has warned regulators of “potential catastrophic loss of life” in the event of a major earthquake. The Santa Susana Fault Line runs through Aliso Canyon and can cause major damage to the gas wells there, he said.

The county also argued that there is enough natural gas in the wells to last in the most extreme of circumstances.

• Related Story: Ex-SoCalGas employee warned regulators of potential catastrophic loss of life at Aliso Canyon

Amid repeated calls by some Porter Ranch residents and environmentalists to shut the facility down, SoCalGas has noted that state gas and utility regulators have deemed the facility is safe to operate on a limited basis.

“We have met — and in many cases, exceeded — the rigorous requirements of the State’s safety review,” Gilbride said.

DOGGR has said it agrees that additional research on seismic risk should be performed. It is working with the National Laboratories that they are “planned and executed in a deliberate manner.”

The utility will notify the community once it is ready to resume limited injections “to support the reliability” of its natural gas and electricity systems, the company stated.



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